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Palmer fired after 5-27 record at helm of Browns
Updated: Saturday January 13, 2001 12:34 AM
BEREA, Ohio (AP) -- Chris Palmer was fired Thursday as head coach of the Cleveland Browns after winning only five games in two seasons and losing the trust of his players and the confidence of the club's front office.
The Browns were 2-14 and 3-13 since returning to the NFL under Palmer, who didn't have any NFL head coaching experience when the Browns hired him to lead the expansion team.
Team president Carmen Policy announced Palmer's firing at a news conference at Browns headquarters.
"It's not the way we wanted things to go," Policy said. "We had hoped, from the bottom of our hearts, that our first coach ... would carry us all the way to the final goal. It was my opinion that Chris and his program were not headed in the direction that was appropriate for the team."
Palmer's job had been in jeopardy since the final week of the season when Policy retracted his guarantee that Palmer would be back for a third year.
Policy changed his mind after the Browns were beaten 44-7 by Baltimore and 48-0 a week later at Jacksonville. Instead, Policy said Palmer's return depended on a postseason evaluation.
Palmer's future became cloudier when a meeting between Policy and Miami head coach Butch Davis was reported. Speculation grew when the club was slow in denying the meeting and by the Browns' unusual silence in recent days.
Palmer met with Policy and team owner Al Lerner for three hours Dec. 21 and had another lengthy meeting with them Wednesday, but the results could not save his job.
"I would like to thank the Cleveland Browns for the opportunity to coach here the last two seasons," Palmer said in a statement released through the team. "I am sorry that it did not work out."
The Browns started this season 2-1, but several key players, including starting quarterback Tim Couch, had season-ending injuries and the team lost nine consecutive. Cleveland finished with only one more win than during its expansion year.
"It's a tough business," Couch said. "You're just judged on wins and losses. I'm sorry for coach Palmer. He showed a lot of confidence, a lot of faith in me and I'll always appreciate it."
Among potential candidates for the job are New Orleans offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, Tampa Bay assistant head coach Herman Edwards and Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. Policy said there was no short list of candidates yet.
When Palmer, a former offensive coordinator at Jacksonville, first came to the Browns, his job was to lead the team's return to the league following a three-year hiatus after former owner Art Modell moved the old franchise to Baltimore.
Palmer and the young Browns were unable to live up to expectations.
Instead, Palmer's Browns lost 43-0 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first game back in the league.
The next week, Palmer benched starting quarterback Ty Detmer in favor of Couch, a move that angered many veteran free agents the Browns had signed before their rebirth.
Palmer also was criticized by some of his players for the toughness of training camp practices as well as his conservative offensive system.
Palmer was a surprising choice as the first head coach of the expansion Browns, who were turned down by several candidates, including Brian Billick, now with the Ravens.
Even though Palmer, 50, wasn't the Browns' first pick, he won over Lerner and Policy with his personality and detail-oriented coaching style.
Palmer's job appeared to be safe in November when Policy guaranteed his coach would return for the 2001 season. But after a dismal final month of the season, Policy said he had promised Palmer would be back in an emotional, "weak" moment.
Palmer's offensive philosophy seemed at odds with the system preferred by both Policy and director of football operations Dwight Clark, who preferred a West Coast offense similar to the one that helped them win five Super Bowls in San Francisco.
Palmer began the process in 1999 of building the Browns from an expansion team. Cleveland finished the '99 season with a 2-14 mark. He inserted No. 1 overall draft choice Couch into the starting lineup in the second week. Couch responded in record-setting fashion, establishing rookie records for completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns and QB rating.
However, Couch played in only seven games this season before suffering a broken thumb.
Cleveland lost its final five games, including the 48-0 decision against the Jaguars. The Browns managed only two first downs -- one by penalty.
Palmer spent the 1997 and '98 seasons as the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville. He helped the Jaguars claim the AFC Central Division championship in '98, and the club approached the 400-point mark both seasons (394 in '97, 392 in '98).
Prior to joining the Jaguars in 1997, Palmer spent four seasons with New England and played a major role in the team earning a trip to Super Bowl XXXI following the '96 season.
Palmer's first NFL coaching experience came with the Houston Oilers as wide receivers coach from 1990-92. During Palmer's three-year stay in Houston, the team boasted the top-ranked passing offense in the NFL.
However, Palmer could not breathe life into the Browns' offense. Cleveland finished 31st in total offense (30th in both rushing and passing) this season, and scored a league-low 161 points.